Building hollow pride on ludicrous claims

October 31, 2014

Rohit Dhankar

Our Honorable Prime Minister would like to believe us that “Mahabharat says Karna was not born from his mother’s womb. This means that genetic science was present at that time. That is why Karna could be born outside his mother’s womb”. About Ganesh he says “[T]here must have been some plastic surgeon at that time [Ganesh’s time] who got an elephant’s head on the body of a human being and began the practice of plastic surgery”. (Indian Express, 28th October, 14)

Such bunkum coming from a Dinanath Batra is not the same thing as coming from a democratically elected Prime Minister of a country of 1.25 billion people. In normal times when people happen to have their wits about them one hardly needs to examine these claims and the implications of the kind of logic used there in. But this is the era of unfounded beliefs and there are many who will lap up anything thrown by the likes of Batra in the name of pride in Bharat Mata and Hinduism. Therefore, a brief look at these claims is in order.

Karna born outside his mother’s womb

The story of Karna’s birth in Mahabharata does not support his birth outside his mother’s womb. There is a dialogue between Kunti and Surya, what they say to each other in the dialogue does not square up with the idea of Karna being born out of womb. One, Kunti is actually rather hesitant to have “samagama” with Surya though she had herself invited him. She was hesitant because was scared that her “kanyabhava” will be destroyed and she will earn bad name for herself. Two, Surya, assures her that he will restore her kanyabhava and there is no danger of bad name in having samagama with him to get a son. As an additional incentive Surya also tells her how brave and invincible their son is going to be. There is a mention of samagama and the son was born. And then Surya restored her kanyabhava (virginity). If the child Karna was born out of the womb, how did Kunti’s kanyabhava got destroyed? Why samagama was needed?

If virgin motherhood (Kunti was not even a virgin mother, her virginity was restored) is taken as a proof of advanced genetic science then the Israelis can also make that claim as Christ is supposed to be conceived by a virgin. That can be easily interpreted as non-sexual fertilization. However, the idea of immaculate birth is too important for Christian faith to be interpreted in manner.

Ganesha and advanced knowledge of surgery

I wonder, if mythology is taken to be the ‘truth’ then why should one stop at joining an elephant head to human body? Ganesh in mythology is actually a created life! He was made out of ‘ubatan’ (bathing paste). According to Shiv Purana, Parvati made him out of her bathing paste and breathed life in to him. The modern science is still struggling to create artificial life in laboratory, our own Parvati did it thousands of years back from something as humble as bathing-paste and he was capable of guarding her house immediately after creation! So why not claim the science of creating artificial life?

There are plenty of characters and creatures in Greek and Egyptian mythology who have wings, animal heads, horns and so on. So if that proves advanced knowledge of surgery then this vidya was rather common place in ancient times. No special credit to ancient Indians.

But are we missing the point?

It is not possible that our very practical Prime Minister and his team are unaware of the fact that such claims are at the best laughable. So why did the PM make such ludicrous claims? The actual belief in such claims seems to be impossible on the part of the PM and his assistants.

To understand this issue perhaps we should look elsewhere. The issue is not truth. The issue is not whether our ancestors were advanced in sciences or not. The issue is that we want to be advanced and ahead of others. And the issue is that the present dispensation wants common Indian to feel pride in this country, culture, and in achievements of his/her ancestors. This is the form of patriotism that the PM, his party and his supported understand; and seem to have no idea how damaging this kind of patriotism can be. These claim are the stuff which are believed to build self-confidence, self-respect, awareness of our own culture and patriotism. And all these things are supposed to be necessary for economic and military development of the country. Therefore, this is a nation building exercise. We have to become a superpower, and this thinking, even if mistakenly, is considered to be useful for that purpose.

In addition to become a superpower the second aims seems to be to become a Hindu-rashtra. Claiming scientific and technological advancement on the basis of Hindu mythology serves several purposes in one go. It builds Hindu pride and an imagination of some Hindu golden age. Building an imagination of Hindu golden age is very useful as it can help create a feeling of loss of this imagined golden age and the blame could be fixed on someone other than the Hindus. A politically useful strategy.

Therefore, the issue is neither the truth of the myths, nor the belief in what is being claimed. The issue is what affects the public in a desired way. And that is more dangerous than actual belief in such ludicrous claims.

Democracy and clarity of thinking

Societies which want to govern themselves democratically have to prepare the citizens for the onerous task. Because, to quote from The Secondary Education Commission Report, “in a democracy—if it is anything more than the thoughtless exercise of the vote—an individual must form his own independent judgment on all kinds of complicated social, economic and political issues and, to a large extent, decide his own course of action. … The first requisite in this connection is to develop the capacity for clear thinking and a receptivity to new ideas. … A democracy of people who can think only confusedly can neither make progress, nor even maintain itself, because it will always be open to the risk of being misled and exploited by demagogues who have within their reach today unprecedentedly powerful media of mass communication and propaganda. To be effective, a democratic citizen should have the understanding and the intellectual integrity to sift truth from falsehood, facts from propaganda and to reject the dangerous appeal of fanaticism and prejudice. He must develop a scientific attitude of mind to think objectively and base his conclusions on tested data.”

I have taken this long quote as it makes the point very clearly and the contrast between what is needed for a healthy democracy and what is being propagated becomes transparent.

The kinds of claims that the Honourable Prime Minister has made go against this thinking and cut at the very roots of people’s ability to think clearly. Claims of genetic engineering and advanced surgery in India 2000 years back coming from people like Mr. Dinanath Batra is no problem. They can be fairly evaluated, debated and refuted. The average person on the road can laugh at their ludicrousness. But when such claims come with the authority of an elected Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy they gain an undeserved respectability in the minds of some people. This kind of propaganda then becomes a tool to destroy clarity in public thinking. And then the future of that democracy becomes perilous. The whole nation becomes a laughing stock. This is neither a way to patriotic pride not to becoming an economic superpower. It is simple demagoguery.


Schools in grave danger

October 28, 2014

Published in The Hindu on 28th October 2014

Rohit Dhankar

The Rajasthan government recently decided to close down more than 17,000 schools, the Maharashtra government decided to close down about 14,000 schools and the Odisha government is closing down 195 schools because of low attendance by students. These are not stray incidents, but indicate the decline of the public education system.

The problem with the private school system can be illustrated with an example. Recently, a parent described to me what teachers in his son’s school said to him regarding the child’s poor performance in studies. Science, social science and English teachers in the school asked him, the father, to solve the problem! Are “incomplete work or misbehaviour… during school hours… not the responsibility of the teachers to handle?” the perplexed man wondered. “If my son misbehaves in [the] house or does not read or write what we tell him to, we as parents handle it. We do not take it up with the teacher. Why [do] teachers nowadays take up everything with the child’s parents,” he asks. He opines that the “teacher has to be responsible for reading and writing and the parent has to be the facilitator by buying books, pens and pencils.”

This is a trend that persists in middle and upper-end private schools and is now catching on in lower-end schools too.

The decline of public schools

Public schools are dying out simply because they don’t perform. The problem began in the late 1950s and 60s when there was growth in the number of schools, but no adequate attention was being paid to infrastructure and availability of trained teachers. In most States, teachers were paid meagre salaries and administration was inefficient. A large number of teachers in States like Rajasthan were untrained. All this affected the quality of education. Teachers lost motivation and became disgruntled.

Some governments started devolving the job of teacher administration to the Panchayati Raj in the late 1950s. This brought in the local politician, who interfered with teachers’ transfers. This and other factors such as a lack of facilities in schools, low salaries and irregularity in disbursement of salaries caused the problem of teacher absenteeism in States like Rajasthan. This led to the growth of a self-centred attitude in newly emerging teacher unions, who began to think of their own welfare first and foremost without giving much thought to the functioning of schools or the quality of education. One can hardly blame them for this attitude.

“The lack of understanding of what education demands and the flawed policies of the past have resulted in the closing down of schools today”

Rather than seriously addressing the problems, education planners and administrators devised quick-fix and inexpensive initiatives to address the growing demand for education. Some important factors that contributed to this mindset were the demand for more schools, the lack of financial and other resources, the pressure of democratic polity to be seen as addressing the problems, and a lack of concern. This mindset can be clearly seen in all the programmes initiated after the 60s — non-formal education, Shiksha Karmi, the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP), and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). At each stage these initiatives were critiqued, and obvious problems in conceptualisation and planning were clearly indicated by many educationists. But they also found their advocates who built a certain kind of rhetoric to support them and advanced that rhetoric as examples of educational change.

The idea of school

One fundamental problem in these initiatives is that they undermine the very concept of school. Schools have an objective — learning — and the process demands both teachers and students to be engaged. There is a time and place set aside for the exploration of ideas in a sustained and coherent manner, and for the development of intellectual rigour and mental discipline. All this is not possible without careful selection of what is to be learnt and a sound judgment on how to teach. Therefore, the school as an organised space demands professional knowledge, deep sensitivity towards the intellectual and emotional needs of the children, and pedagogical judgment on the part of teachers. When all these are pitted against each other, the idea of school is distorted. This is precisely what our education system has been doing for the last five decades.

For example, the non-formal education scheme spent crores of rupees, and was implemented throughout the country from the late 1960s to the early 1990s. The scheme completely discarded the ideas of professional knowledge in teaching, teacher training and educational planning and thus sent a signal throughout the country that anyone can teach. It also discarded the idea of well-equipped separate spaces for schools; thus paying little heed to the need for any infrastructure. It ignored the intellectual demands of both teachers and students. Overall, it devalued education, the teacher, and the idea of school.

By the time the failure of this flawed scheme was realised, many innovators were ready with other initiatives such as Shiksha Karmi in Rajasthan. The DPEP was almost ready to be launched. The balance between professional knowledge, intellectual rigour, sensitivity to the child and infrastructural needs was never restored in any of these programmes, including SSA. This apparent lack of understanding of what good education demands and the flawed policies of the past have resulted in the closing down of schools today.

Methods of learning

Meanwhile, the private sector stepped in to cash in on parental anxiety regarding the state of education. Private schools are growing at a phenomenal rate now. Some analysts think that while the public education system is deteriorating, the private system is going from strength to strength.

This false perception is perhaps deliberately created. Private schools function for profit; this fact itself counters the idea of a caring school. A good school is where knowledge is cherished, where intellect is developed, where there is sensitivity towards the child and where there are adequate resources. Maximisation of profit prompts the owners to emphasise on competition rather than conceptual learning. Children in private schools are forced to learn by rote — and this undermines the value of understanding. Actual learning demands conceptual clarity, and is difficult and time consuming. Private schools naturally encourage the first method. In other words, they impoverish the very idea of learning to dilute the demands for a good school.

However, the most damaging aspect of the private schooling system is that private schools do not want to take responsibility for the moral growth and behaviour of the child. Their ideal is to turn themselves into consultant agencies. If a child has moral and behavioural problems, these schools will call the parents to solve the problem. For academic weaknesses they advise private tuitions. In either case, they abdicate the responsibility of an educator. Their own job thus becomes minimised, which suits better margins of profit.

The twin maladies of losing children in government schools and minimising the idea of school in the private sector are putting our schools in grave danger. We as a society seem to be far from realising that civilisations depend on education and schools are primary sites of education. If schools die, civilisations deteriorate. Unless we recognise the need for rigour in understanding, planning and implementation in education, we will be unable to arrest this downward trend and our schools will either close down or transform into consultancy services, leaving the space open for tuition shops. Of course, this turning around will demand appropriate political and economic decisions.

Value education: what do we mean by it?

October 22, 2014

In Deccan Herald with a different title

Rohit Dhankar

Almost everyone is convinced that our education system does not inculcate values, it is accused of being all cognitive, as if the issue of values involves no cognition. And that is one of the problems in value education: if values are not a cognitive matter then a mystification begins in their definition, lists and ways of teaching. If we do want our education to help children become morally responsible, then we need a lot of thinking on what values are, how they can be chosen for ‘teaching’ and what methods might work.

Values and moral development

One big problem in value education is that we seem to have an endless list of them, one never know how many or which of them are to be taught, which ones to be preferred over others. One way of shorting them out is to define and categories them.

Values are ideals accepted by people. They act as principles that guide behaviour. Something which I do not understand cannot guide my conscious behaviour. Therefore, values have to be understood first and foremost. The role of cognition has to be central to development of values. But understanding alone does not ensure acceptance of a principle. Duryodhana is reputed for saying in Mahabharata that he knew what dharma is but was not motivated to act accordingly. Therefore, a moral commitment to act according to the principle is necessary; and that goes beyond pure intellectual understanding. Often it is described as emotional investment in the principle; but moral commitment is not necessarily emotional, even if emotions play a part in it. One may understand a principle, may also have moral commitment to it and still may fail to live accordingly. Which means something is missing. What is missing is mental and physical discipline. One who can muster the courage to act as per the principle and control his contrary inclinations to uphold it in thought and action has that discipline.

But the story of moral development does not end here. Values do not only come in conflict with one’s desires; they also conflict with each other. For example, one may be in a situation where commitment to, say, sanctity of human life and compassion may come into conflict; the debate on euthanasia has an element of this conflict. Being able to arrive at a sound moral judgment is the centre of moral development.

We have identified four elements of moral development above. One, intellectual understanding of a principle. Two, moral commitment to a set of principles. Three, discipline of mind to uphold the principle in the face of adversity. And four, ability to resolve conflict between the principles.

Ability to resolve value conflict is not logically possible without having some kind of framework which helps in deciding on hierarchy of values. Such a framework may have some general structure and ways of interpreting its implications in a given context. Therefore, an endless uncategorized list of values will not help.

There are some behaviours which directly affect others. For example being unfair and rude. Principles governing such behaviour can be called social values. The principles governing behaviours that do not have direct effect on others can be called personal values; for example hygiene. However, this division will always be a matter of interpretation and there shall be a significant overlap. The point being made here is that some justifiable categorisation is a must. If we accept this categorisation then one can say that social values must have a priority over the personal ones.

This is just an indication of the method to solve the problem of value hierarchy; in a short piece a fuller explication is not possible. One example for consideration head the hierarchy of values can be quoted from Mahabharata: “One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of Righteousness.” I would claim that this principle can be reasonably justifies and can be used for critique of other values.

On pedagogy

If we take moral development in this sense then it has very significant implications for pedagogy of moral development. One can easily see that memorisation without understanding, conditioning in behaving in certain ways, indoctrination into some principles and habit formation will not work. The methods used in and advocated for our schools often fall into these categories.

The practice of chanting any pledges in school assembly is just rote memorisation of some empty slogans like “all Indians are my brothers and sisters, etc”. It is useless unless followed with rigorous examination in the class for meaning and desirability of such an idea. Similarly, role models and bhakti for them is unlikely to help develop one morally. It can work, again, only when a sound and unbiased critique of the role model is allowed. Values necessarily require intellectual conviction and that does not come from paying obeisance to role models. Attempts to commit suicide on politicians defeat, demise or sending to jail is partly a result of uncritical acceptance of role models. What would be required is critical judgement, sensitivity to others’ well-being and courage to face the music for acting on one’s own judgment. That can be developed only through free expression of one’s opinion and arguments and being sensitive to how others respond to them.

Many of our interpretations of aims and pedagogical techniques in teaching other subjects and classroom management also go against healthy moral development. For example the often heard social Darwinism of “survival of the fittest” as an argument in favour of competition. One’s you accept survival of the fittest and the instinctive value of survival the only logical path before human mind is ruthless pursuit of one’s own ends. This is the ultimate principle of selfishness, and totally contrary to the above quoted cardinal moral principle.


असहमति और अभिव्यक्ति की स्वतन्त्रता

October 10, 2014

रोहित धनकर

दैनिक भास्कर, १० अक्टूबर २०१४, नई दिल्ली से एक खबर छपी है: “जेएनयू में महिषासुर शहादत दिवस आयोजन के विरोध में कुछ छात्रों ने एफआईआर दर्ज कराई है, जिसके बाद हिंदू देवी-देवताओं के विरुद्ध गलत प्रचार के आरोप में फारवर्ड प्रेस पत्रिका जब्त कर ली गई और उसके चार कर्मचारियों को गुरुवार सुबह गिरफ्तार कर लिया गया।”

कल रात को ही जे.अन.यु. से एक दोस्त ने इस खबर के बारे में बता दिया था. बहुत सारे काम बाक़ी पड़े होने के बावजूद मेरी उत्सुकता और चिंता के चलते मैंने सुबह के कई घंटे—और मेरा दिमाग केवल सुबह ही चलता है आजकल—फारवर्ड प्रेस पत्रिका पढ़ने और उस में से कुछ समझने में लगाये; यह देखने के लिए की उसमें ऐसा क्या है जिसके लिए पत्रिका को जब्त किया जाए और उसके कर्मचारियों को गिरफ्तार किया जाए. मैंने सुबह-सुबह पत्रिका के वे सारे लेख पढ़े जो हिन्दू देवी-देवताओं से सम्बंधित हो सकते हैं.

इन लेखों में मुझे ऐसा कुछ भी नहीं मिला जिसके आधार पर पत्रिका को जब्त किया जाए और कर्मचारियों को गिरफ्तार किया जाए. जैसा कि पत्रिका के सलाहकार संपादक का कहना है इस “अंक में कोई भी ऐसी सामग्री नहीं है, जिसे भारतीय संविधान के अनुसार आपत्तिजनक ठहराया जा सके”. अतः यह गिरफ्तारी और जब्ती सरासर असंवैधानिक है, विचार और अभिव्यक्ति की स्वतन्त्रता पर सीधा हमला है, और इसका विरोध और भ्रत्सना होनी चाहिए. यह पुलिस की गुंडागिर्दी है.

अब कुछ विचार पत्रिका में प्रकाशित विषय-वस्तु पर भी करने की जरूरत है. मुख्य चीज जिसको शायद निशाना बनायागया है वह महिषासुर और दुर्गा को लेकर एक चित्र कथा है. चित्र-कथा का लब्बो-लबाब यह है: महिषासुर असुरों का राजा था. देव उसको मरना चाहते थे. पर वह ताकतवर था और देवों के बस में नहीं आ रहा था. देवों ने छल से उसे मारने के लिए दुर्गा को भेजा. दुर्गा ने उस से प्रणय निवेदन किया, अपने रूप जाल में बंधा, सात दिन उसके साथ रही और फिर मौका देख कर उसे छल से मार दिया और महल के दरवाजे छुपे हुए देवों के लिए खोल दिए. देवों ने असुरों का कत्ले आम कर दिया. चित्र कला की दृष्टी से चाहे उत्कृष्ट ना हों पर न तो भद्दे हैं, ना ही अश्लील.

यह भी चित्र कथा का हिस्सा है की बचे हुए असुरों ने पांचवें दिन महिषासुर की ह्त्या पर शोक-सभा की. जे.अन.यु. में महिषासुर दिवस इसी शोक की स्मृती में मनाया जा रहा है.

पर देवताओं के छल, दुर्गा के प्रणय-निवेदन और महिषासुर के साथ रहने की कथा पत्रिका के ज्ञानी लेखक लाये कहाँ से? देवों और असुरों के संग्राम और संबंधों पर पत्रिका में काफी सामग्री है. पर इस कहानी के पक्ष में कोई बहुत साफ़ प्रमाण नही हैं. इसे मिथकों का ‘बहुजन’ पाठ कहा जा रहा है? ये बहुजन कौन हैं जो इस पाठ को मानते हैं? यादवों, दलितों और आदिवासियों का नाम लेने से तो काम नहीं चलेगा. क्यों की यह कहना मुश्किल है की सभी लोग जो इन जातियों में हैं वे इस पाठ को स्वीकार करते हैं.

पत्रिका के इसी अंक में श्री संजीव चन्दन का एक लेख है, “दुर्गा और महिषासुर का मिथक: एक वस्तुनिष्ठ पाठ”. इस लेख में उपरोक्त चित्र-कथा का आधार देखा जा सकता है. श्री चन्दन का कहना है कि दुर्गा सप्तशती इस पाठ को आधार देती है. मूलतः उनका “वस्तुनुष्ठ” पाठ उनके अपने कथन के अनुसार ‘पंक्तियों के बीच की व्याख्या’ पर निर्भर करता है. वह व्याख्या कुछ इस प्रकार है:

  1. दुर्गा सप्तशती के अनुसार युद्ध के दौरान दुर्गा ने सुरा-पान किया.
  2. इस से कुछ लोग (पंक्ति-बीच-व्यखाकार) महिषासुर के वध को दुर्गा के स्त्री होने का फायदा उठा कर धोखे से की गई ह्त्या मानते हैं. (कैसे? पता नहीं.)
  3. बाद में असुर शुम्भ और निशुम्भ दुर्गा को अपने पास आने का प्रस्ताव देते हैं. श्री चन्दन के अनुसार “यहाँ भी कथा के भीतर उपकथा की संभावना है”.
  4. कैसे? लेखक के अनुसार “दुर्गा का अविवाहित होना यानि किसी देवता के द्वारा उसे पत्नी के रूप में न स्वीकार जाना, यानि वह उर्वशी, मेनका की तरह देवताओं की अप्सराओं में गिनी जा सकती है”. (प्रगति-वादी लेखक के इस कथन पर आगे कुछ विचार करेंगे.)
  5. महिषासुर की हत्या को ‘महिषासुर मर्दन’ कहा जाता है. लेखक के अनुसार ‘मर्दन’ ‘सेक्स के लिए इस्तेमाल होने वाला शब्द है’. इसे युद्ध के दौरान सुरा-पान के साथ देखा कर उपकथायें तलाशी जा सकती हैं.

जिसे अंग्रेजी में “इन्तेर्प्रेटेटिव रीडिंग” कहते हैं और यहाँ लेखक “पंक्तियों के बीच की व्याख्या” कह रहे हैं उस विधा मैं से पूरी तरह अनभिज्ञ हूँ. मेरे गणितीय दिमाग को लगता है की यह एक ऎसी जादुई विधा है जिसके माध्यम से किसी भी आलेख का कोई भी मन-माना अर्थ बहुत ही आशानी से निकाला जा सकता है. वास्तव में यह इस बात की घोषणा है की लिखित शब्द का कोई अर्थ नहीं होता, अतः सारे अर्थ बराबर के आधिकारिक होते हैं. यह मानवीय ज्ञान की थाती को मूर्खता में तब्दील करने का यन्त्र है. खैर, अब हम थोड़ा श्री चन्दन की व्याख्या की पड़ताल करते हैं.

इस पड़ताल में हमें ‘पंक्ती-बीच-व्याख्या’ विधि के इस्तेमाल की जरूरत नहीं है. ऊपर लिखे १ से ४ तक के बिन्दुओं को मिला कर देखिये: दुर्गा सुरा-पान करती है, वह अविवाहित है, उसे कोई दो लोग अपने पास आने का प्रस्ताव देते हैं, अतः वह अप्सरा है और अपने स्त्री होने के पुरुष के लिए योनिक आकर्षण का वध के लिए उपयोग करती है. और लोगों के साथ सोने में उसे कोई ऐतराज नहीं है. यह चिंतन आये दिन स्त्रियों को अपने आप को ढक कर रखने की सलाह, किसी पुरुष की होने के निशान (सिन्दूर) लगा कर रखने का रिवाज, अकेली ना रहने की सलाह, आदि से कैसे अलग है? क्या यही मानसिकता नहीं है जो हर अकेली स्त्री को अपने लिए उपलब्ध मानने की आज कल के पुरुषों को इजाजत देती है?

चन्दन साहब को कैसे पता की पुरानी आर्य मानसिकता भी इतनी ही बीमार थी? यह अपनी आज की मानसिकता के आधार पर की गई लोलुप कल्पना नहीं है क्या?

श्री चन्दन को लगता है कि संस्कृत शब्द ‘मर्दन’ का अर्थ सेक्स भी है. मोनिएर-विलियमस का शब्द-कोष मर्दन के ये अर्थ देता है: “Mardana, n. crushing, grinding, rubbing, bruising, paining, tormenting, ruining, destroying, n. the act of crushing or grinding or destroying; Kav.; Kathas. ; BhP.; rubbing, anointing, cleaning or combing (the hair).” आप्टे लगभग शब्दसह सहमत है. इन अर्थों में योन कितना है यह कोई भी आशानी से देख सकता है. और फिर सन्दर्भ का भी योगदान होता है अर्थ के चुनाव में, जहाँ बात युद्ध और मरने की हो रही हो वहां आप “रबिंग, अनोइन्टिंग, क्लीनिंग, या काम्बिंग” चुनेंगे या कुछ और?

इस के अलावा महिषासुर दुर्गा की चित्र कथा का पत्रिका में कोई और प्रमाण नहीं दिखा. हाँ, अपेक्षाकृत लम्बा लेख किन्हीं पॉल ई लारसन साहब का है. यह लेख अवेस्ता और वैदिक साहित्य की तुलना करके यह बताने की कोशिश करता है की कैसे पहले ‘असुर’ तो अच्छे गुणों वाले नैतिक लोग थे और कैसे देव बुराइयों की खान और बुरे लोग थे. दोनों ही आर्य थे, असुर एक-ईश्वर के मानने वाले थे और देव बहु-ईश्वरवादी. लेख में प्रमाणों के नाम पर कुछ वैसा ही है जैसा चन्दन साहब के लेख में. पर लारसन साहब के लेख में एकेश्वर और बहु-ईश्वर की बात को और एकेश्वर के साथ नैतिकता और अच्छे लोगों का होना तथा बहु-ईश्वर के साथ घमंड, ताकत की चाह और अन्याय का होना समझना हो तो उनके बारे में कुछ और जानना होगा.

श्री लारसन “ट्रुथ सीकेर्स इंटरनेशनल” के “यूएस बोर्ड” के संथापक सदस्य हैं. और इस जिम्मेदारी के तहत पिछले १२ वर्षों से भारत की नियमित यात्रा करते हैं. ट्रुथ सीकेर्स इंटरनेशनल का उद्येश्य है “BRINGING FREEDOM FROM CASTE THROUGH THE GOSPEL” अर्थात “गोस्पल के माध्यम से जाती से स्वतंत्रता दिलाना”. कैसे? ट्रुथ सीकेर्स की वेब साईट से एक छोटी सी बानगी देख लीजिये: “India’s caste system, a 3000 year old system of religiously defined slavery, restricts the occupation of priests to the highest caste, called Brahmins. They and they alone have the authority under Hinduism, to perform and preside over weddings, funerals, sacrifices, baby naming ceremonies, building dedications and other spiritual ceremonies and festivals. During the past decade, Truthseekers has labored to remove Brahmin tyranny over the lives of India’s low and out castes through the reconciliation of those castes and the denial of any spiritual superiority of the Brahmins, which is what Hinduism teaches.

This labor has produced results, and we’re seeing the reconciliation of the low and out castes and their rejection of Brahmin priests all over North India. This cultural shift creates a huge void. Who will solemnize weddings now? Who will determine the name of a child? This is the problem that Truth-Keepers Discipleship program will solve. We will disciple people into solid Christ followers who will have the authority, confidence and capacity to pastor the low and out castes, including performing and presiding over the spiritual ceremonies that Brahmins once did.”

श्री लारसन के बारे में ट्रुथ सीकेर्स इंटरनेशनल की साईट पर यह है: “He is amazed at all God is doing. Paul states he never dreamed that he would see so powerful a movement of God as we now see moving through the Backward Castes of India. Since 2003 Paul has made seventeen multi-week trips to India serving with TSI which he has carefully documented.”

कौन से सत्य की खोज में लारसन साहेब भारत की बार बार यात्रा कर रहे हैं यह इन उद्धरणों से साफ़ हो जाता है. दलित और पिछड़ों की स्वतंत्रता से लारसन साहब का आशय है ईसाई होना. भारत में ईसाइयत ने जाति को कितना दूर किया है यह बात भी सभी जानते हैं. पिछड़ों की शादी करवाने का और बच्चों के नाम कारण का धंधा ब्राह्मणों से छीन कर पादरी के हाथ में देने को वे स्वतन्त्रता दिलाना मानते हैं.

पत्रिका का यह अंक मूलतः यह बताता है कि जिसे ये ‘बहुजन’ कहते हैं (दलित, पिछड़े और आदिवासी) वे लोग असुर-श्रमण परंपरा के वारिस हैं. महिषासुर के वंसज हैं, और अब अपनी परंपरा का पुनर्संधान करके ब्रह्माणी परंपरा से निकलना चाहते हैं. अतः महिषासुर दिवस मनाते हैं. यह ‘पहचान की राजनीती’ का एक पैंतरा है. कोई अपनी पहचान असुरों से और महिषासुर से बनाना चाहता है तो किसी और को क्या ऐतराज हो सकता है? यदि किसी को ईसा और महिषासुर एक-दूसरे के बहुत नजदीक लगते हैं तो भी क्या ऐतराज हो सकता है?

पत्रिका के लेख ठीक-ठाक विमर्श से लेकर मूर्खता तक जाते हैं. कोई भरोसे मंद अकादमिक विमर्श की अपेक्षा इस से करना तो बेवकूफी ही होगी. साथ ही देवी भक्तों को और वैदिक देवताओं के भक्तों को पत्रिका की बहुत सी बातें ना पसंद होंगी, और आज के भारत में बुरी भी लग सकती हैं.

तो क्या मैं यहाँ अपनी ही आरम्भ में कही बात का विरोध कर रहा हूँ? मैं ने आरम्भ में कहा है कि “इन लेखों में मुझे ऐसा कुछ भी नहीं मिला जिसके आधार पर पत्रिका को जब्त किया जाए और कर्मचारियों को गिरफ्तार किया जाए. जैसा कि पत्रिका के सलाहकार संपादक का कहना है इस “अंक में कोई भी ऐसी सामग्री नहीं है, जिसे भारतीय संविधान के अनुसार आपत्तिजनक ठहराया जा सके”. अतः यह गिरफ्तारी और जब्ती सरासर असंवैधानिक है, विचार और अभिव्यक्ति की स्वतन्त्रता पर सीधा हमला है, और इसका विरोध और भ्रत्सना होनी चाहिए. यह पुलिस की गुन्दागिर्दी है.” साथ ही मैं अब कहा रहा हूँ की पत्रिका प्रमाण विहीन मूर्खताओं से भारी है और इस में ऎसी चीजें हैं जो देवी भक्तों को बुरी लग सकती हैं.

मेरे विचार से इन दोनों बातों में कोई विरोध नहीं है. मैं पत्रिका की वैचारिक धरा से असहमत हूँ, कुछ आलेखों को छोड़ कर उसमें कुछ गंभीरता से ध्यान देने काबिल नहीं है. पर लोकतंत्र में लोगों को अपने विचार रखने की, उन्हें प्रचारित करने की पूरी स्वतंत्रता जरूरी है. चाहे उन विचारों को हम गलत और मूर्खतापूर्ण ही क्यों न मानें. अतः इन लोगों को देवी दुर्गा के बारे में एक दूसरा विमर्श आरम्भ करने का हक़ है. इस में देवी भक्तों को बुरा लगता है तो लगे.

पत्रिका को पढने से एक बात मुझे और महसूस हुई. इसके करता-धर्ता और संघ परिवार के मूल चिंतन में कोई खाश फर्क नहीं है. स्त्रियों के बारे में मैंने ऊपर चन्दन साहब के लेख में यह दिखाया है. अब इतिहास के बारे में भी देखलें. श्री लारसन बताते हैं कि “No sense of individual or group identity can successfully survive without a story of origin and destiny. The community must believe that it has an ordained place in the order of things. It is from the story of our past that we understand the present and gain hope and direction for the future.

Thus the celebration of Mahishasura, the great king of the Asuras, martyred at the hands of the treacherous Aryans, provides for the renewal of both identity and hope for the oppressed Dalitbahujans. Such counter-cultural commemorations reconstruct and empower the identity of today’s oppressed Indian Asuras.”

तो पहचान इंसानियत और इंसानी बराबरी के आधार पर नहीं, उद्गम की कहानी और उसकी महानता के आधार पर बनती है. येही तो संघ परिवार कहता है. लारसन साहेब इस के साथ यह भी बताते हैं ‘बहुजन’ को कि वे ‘दमनकारी बहुईश्वरवादी आख्यान को छोड़ें और स्वतंत्र करने वाली एकेश्वरवादी आशा के गले लगायें’. बहुईश्वरवादी सिर्फ आख्यान है, और एकेश्वरवादी चिंतन “आशा”. तो रास्ता कुछ यूँ है: दुर्गा से महिषासुर और वहां से ईसा. पर यह पत्रिका का विचार नहीं है, उसमें एक लेखक श्री लारसेन की आशा भर हो सकती है.

निष्कर्ष यह कि पत्रिका का चिंतन आधारहीन और भोंडा है. तर्क बचकाने और उथले हैं. मुख्या मशला भारत की कुछ जातियों को असुर परंपरा में बताना और दुर्गा को देवों/आर्यों के नियंत्रण में एक चाल-बाज छलिया स्त्री बताना है. इस पहचान की लड़ाई के गंदले पानी में मछली पकड़ने के लिए एक ईसाई समूह भी ललचाई आँखों से देख रहा है और ईसायत की पुरानी परंपरा—दूसरे धर्मों की भोंडी व्याख्या करने—का पूरा निर्वाह कर रहा है. पर लोकतंत्र में शब्द के माध्यम से ये सब करने को विमर्श मानना होगा और इसको पूरी इजाजत और संरक्षण भी देना होगा. अतः, पुलिस करवाई गलत, गैर संवैधानिक और नाजायज है. उन लोगों को अपनी अधकचरी व्याख्याओं के प्रकाशित करने का हक़ है और सभी लोकतंत्र में विश्वास रखने वाले लोगों को पत्रिका पर पुलिस करवाई का विरोध करना चाहिए. Read the rest of this entry »

Constructivism: A pedagogical conundrum?

October 2, 2014

Rohit Dhankar

“Fighting all epistemic battles with political weapons will leave us collectively and individually more stupid than we already are.”

We often express our strong disapproval of the fact that too many children in our schools learn by rote. They just memorize what is written in the textbook and may understand too little of it. This is a legitimate worry. And we try to develop innovative methods and activities to correct this situation; to help children learn with understanding.

But we hardly notice that there can be ‘rote teaching’ as there is ‘rote learning’. ‘Rote teaching’ would mean using methods and activities in classrooms that are learnt simply as activities; without any regard to understanding the rationale or theory behind those activities. ‘Rote teaching’ without understanding the reasons behind the methods is almost certain to produce ‘rote learning’. If the teachers want to go beyond ‘rote learning’ they have to get rid of ‘rote teaching’. This article tries to unravel some selected theoretical positions behind one of the most often talked pedagogy: constructivism.

Constructivism is the current holy cow of Indian education. We as a nation are avowed cow worshippers at heart, metaphorically speaking. Anything uttered against the object of worship is seen as blasphemy by the worshipper. A blasphemer is considered as a fit object for attack; I am up for a fair bit of attack, as I am going to blaspheme in this little piece.

This article is not meant for the scholars working at the cutting edge of the constructivist controversy; the modest aim of this effort is only to attempt to bring a little more precision to common constructivism conversations among teachers and other people working in elementary education.

Let us note, then, that constructivists as a group are not quite certain what constructivism is or they have different brands of it to propagate. There are many shades of it and the term is used with several adjectives to mark those different shades: constructivism – plain and simple, radical constructivism, social constructivism, radical social constructivism. These are some of the varieties of constructivism on each of which I will say a few sentences. There might be more varieties and my information about the development on the issue might be a little dated; but I doubt that there have been any substantial changes in the basic assumptions in spite of the great delight current day scholarship takes in coining new terms without much change in the substance.

Before we get into the hotly contested area let us look at a particular characterization of constructivist pedagogy. As pedagogy, constructivism refuses to accept that ‘knowledge can be transferred from one mind to another’. In the constructivist parlance knowledge has to be created by the personal efforts of each learner and teachers can only create opportunities for that construction1. Clarence Joldersma2 summarises Ernst von Glasersfeld’s position on constructivist pedagogy as follows:

1. Teaching involves creating opportunities for students to trigger their own thinking.
2. Teachers not only need to be familiar with the curricular content, but they also must have available a repertoire of didactic situations in which such conceptual content can be naturally built up in a way that sparks the students’ natural interests.
3. Teachers need to realize that students’ mistakes are not wrong as such, but are predictable solutions on the way to more adequate conceptualization.
4. Teachers need to understand that specialized words in academic disciplines do not have the same meaning for a student as they do for the expert, and teachers must have an idea of the students’ present concepts, ideas, and theories.
5. Teachers must realize that the formation of concepts requires reflection, something accomplished by conversations among students and with the teacher.

As you can see it is a very sane and tame description with which no objectivist is likely to disagree. Also notice that all the points made are psychological in nature. This kind of characterization is likely to have the full support of every serious teacher, whatever her philosophical position, and has a wide range of solid support from philosophers right from Socrates to modern day lesser known philosophers of education. Their approach to teaching and acquisition of knowledge requires efforts from the learner and accepts with full support the students’ right to cognitive freedom to accept or reject any conceptualization. And let’s note that this characterization of constructivist pedagogy comes from Ernst von Glasersfeld, who is considered the grandfather of radical constructivism.

But constructivist talk in India (actually anywhere) does not stop at this modest and primarily psychological characterization. National Curriculum Framework for School Education 2000 (NCFSE, 2000), confidently proclaims that, “As opposed to the epistemic model of the children which does not provide a great scope for their social experiences, the constructivist movement has re-emphasised the active role children play in acquiring knowledge. …. In the constructivist setting, the learners have autonomy for their own learning, opportunities for peer collaboration and support, occasions for learner generated problems that drive the curriculum, time for self-observation and evaluation and outlets for reflection. …. This perspective recognizes the teacher as primarily a facilitator of learning. Rather than dictating what should be done, the facilitative teacher tends to act as a guide, providing resources for learners and enabling them to decide how to learn and why to learn. The constructivist teacher follows no rigid prescriptions for successful teaching, acts as a facilitator of meaning-making rather than leader of all learning. (p. 26) This knowledge acquisition is a constructive or generative process and each student’s knowledge is personal and unique.” (p. 42)

The two claims that seem to be immediately problematic here are the child’s decision on ‘why to learn’ and his/her knowledge being ‘personal and unique’. Of course, if one is interpreting it as an immediate psychological fact then there is nothing to argue about. But if this is supposed to be a claim of larger importance then ‘why to learn’ and ‘what to learn’ are complex curricular decisions involving aims of education, desirable society, and national aspirations. And the claims made here clearly do not make sense.

The more problematic is the knowledge being ‘personal and unique’; I wonder if the curricular framers involved in NCF 2000 realized that the claim forecloses all possibility of communicability and rejects any possible criteria for judging what would count as knowledge and what would be deemed misconception or false belief.

National Curriculum Framework, 2005 (NCF 2005) takes a relatively more balanced view and does talk about authenticity and validation of knowledge. It has two contesting views of knowledge. The more emphasized view in the document leaves the question of validation uncomfortably open: “how does, then, one differentiate authentic knowledge from unauthentic? Are all beliefs formed of equal worth? Are they equally ‘true’? And what would truth mean in this scheme of things? Can we legitimately assume that since the child’s knowledge is socially constructed, it shall automatically answer the questions of validity?” These questions are not answered in the more detailed view of learning in NCF 2005, “and that raises doubts about its use in curriculum development. This primarily is an involved description of pedagogy and is negligent of the need for public criteria for knowledge. Here, learning is the goal. It is very doubtful whether even learning defined in this manner can be of much educational use.”3

Now this new characterization becomes problematic as it involves epistemic claims that may be difficult to sustain. To better define the problem let’s note that any rationally defensible pedagogy will necessarily involve a Theory of Learning (TL) and a Theory of Knowledge (TK). TL will answer questions regarding “What is learning”, “How it comes about”, “How concepts are formed”, “What role experience plays in learning” and so on. TK will deal with questions like “What is knowledge?”, “How does one justify and validate it?”, “How is it communicated?”, “What are its limits?” and so on. Thus, constructivist pedagogy involves a ‘Constructivist Theory of Learning’ (CTL) as well as a ‘Constructivist Theory of Knowledge’ (CTK).

The constructivist pedagogy

There are not many problems in the CTL. Concept formation is generally recognized as based on the learner’s personal experience and contains elements of uniqueness for each learner given her personal history and state of mind at the time of learning. It is also recognized in cognitive psychology that concepts and knowledge can neither be transferred nor emerge automatically in a primarily inactive tabula rasa. Thus, the learner has to be actively engaged and often consciously. All this happens in a social setting and is profoundly influenced by it; this fact is also unproblematic and generally accepted. And all this is compatible with even the most extreme kind of objectivist, foundationalist and universalistic epistemology.

And still, even psychological constructivism may get into problems when taken to the extreme. For example, in some extreme versions of discovery learning, all concepts have to be formed by children through self-discovery. And there happen to be concepts of practical and theoretical varieties4 that cannot be discovered without explicit help from someone who already has those concepts. However, this difficulty can be tackled partly by taking recourse to social constructivism5 and partly by relaxing the radical stand.

One simple aspect of constructivist theory of knowledge

The real insurmountable problems emerge in the CTK. Here, constructivism as an epistemology and as a pedagogy collides with two solid walls of human sense-data (sense-impressions) and forms of thought or structure of mind and gets almost shattered in this collision.

Let’s look at this problem more closely. As a methodology and communication strategy to make this point I will examine various possible interpretations of an often heard statement, “All knowledge is socially constructed”, and try to see which interpretations can be plausibly defended and which cannot be. Let’s denote this principle, “All knowledge is socially constructed” by the letter P. We will denote its various interpretations by IP1, IP2, etc.

Thus P: All knowledge is socially constructed.

IP1: In an educational context all curricular knowledge is selected socially, that is selected in a social context, collectively by those in dominant position, the selection is influenced by power equations in the society.

This is an unproblematic truism. So the claim that what a society selects to pass on to the next generation is socially decided can hardly be contested if it is seen as a descriptive statement, that is, if what is claimed is supposed to be a description of situations as they occur in societies.

But, if it is meant either as biologically determined or as a claim that this selection is devoid of any other criteria than social agreement under the dominant political position, then it could be contested. We will see later that there could be ways of countering dominant political positions which derive their strength for resistance from other quarters.

IP1 is actually neither an issue of TL nor of TK; it is a claim about socio-politics of knowledge; and is unproblematic unless it is meant to express that ‘socio-politics is all that is there to knowledge’ and that ‘acceptance of knowledge requires no criteria beyond socio-politics’.

IP2: The problems and areas of knowledge that get investigated are determined by the socio-political (including cultural and economic) needs of a society, therefore, what knowledge gets constructed and what areas are left out of investigation is socio-politically determined.

Again the issue is neither concerned with TL nor with TK; it is about economic-social decisions as to where the society decided to invest its resources. No problem if it is meant descriptively; but indefensible if it is meant normatively, claiming that’s how it should be.

Also one has to keep some room for the wayward individuals who may pursue their own inclinations and logic contrary to social pressures. If one argues that this is also totally determined by the society and social living, then the thesis becomes infallible and one can hardly imagine ways of testing it or arguing against it; and thus becomes useless.

IP3: Concepts and knowledge that can be constructed are absolutely determined by the kind of social life one lives, psychologically speaking. Thus, claiming that human psychology is totally determined by social living.

Of course, social living influences the kinds of concepts and knowledge construction we may be capable of; but making this principle absolute runs counter to experience. The human capability of receiving sense-impressions, abhorrence to pain, attraction to pleasure, dependence of empirical concepts on sense-impressions, etc., all run counter to such a claim. It cannot be accepted, and if that is what P means it is plainly false.

IP4: Epistemic criteria for validity of knowledge are totally determined by the socio-political conditions; and there are no grounds beyond legitimacy constructed through socio-political forces alone; therefore, all human knowledge is socially constructed.

This is the strongest interpretation of P, is centrally concerned with our theme in this article, has profound implications for pedagogy right from primary to university; and is totally indefensible.

Let’s try to see why this is indefensible. IP4 faces two insurmountable difficulties to my mind. They are tentatively referred to above as: human sense-impressions and structure of mind.

First let’s consider human sense-impressions: all humans, in all societies, receive only five kinds of sense impressions; and no socio-political forces can change that. Thus, the limits of empirical knowledge are absolutely and universally determined; one can play within this arena but can hardly transcend it.

Knowledge has purpose, mainly of helping one live a satisfactory life. Humans imagine various versions of satisfactory life and their sense-impressions determine how successful they are in achieving that end. For example, I might imagine the capability to go through stonewalls necessary for a satisfactory life, and want to possess this; however, my sense impressions tell me that I may break my head but can not pass through. This is not a trivial example, it tells us that there are physical conditions which may not be changed or violated by influence of socio-political play (as a radical constructivist might claim). They are absolute and universal.

We happen to communicate. Otherwise we can have neither dialogue nor debates about knowledge or seminars. The possibility of communication cannot be explained unless we assume:

1. The existence of something independent of our minds
2. A substantial core of identical or at the least similar sense-impressions that something produces in our minds, and
3. Similarity in our forming and grasping of symbols through which we communicate.

Discard any one of these assumptions and communication will be an unexplainable mystery.

These, and we can discover many more, conclusions provide epistemic criteria for the possibility of construction of knowledge and grounds for its validity that cannot be ignored by socio-political forces. Though, the socio-political forces can play with them within limits. But that does not save IP4.

And this is only half the story; let’s consider the other half: the contested structure of human mind.

Let’s encounter a few absolute truths:

• Human mind is incapable of annihilating space. That is, you may be able to imagine largely empty space but you cannot imagine your own existence and not have space at all. This leads to all human experience, and therefore knowledge, as space bound.
• Human mind is incapable of accepting p and not-p simultaneously. You cannot accept simultaneously that “the earth is round” (call it p) and that “the earth is not round”. That little fact demands coherence from all human knowledge. Incoherent belief system does not count as knowledge.
• Human mind is incapable of denying [if a=b, and b=c then a=c], if it grasps its meaning. That provides at the least one very important basis for objective inference. Therefore, construction of more knowledge from existing knowledge becomes possible.
• Human mind is incapable of unthinking self once the self-consciousness arises, and that arises in all societies. That gives us at least one universal principle about human nature.
• Human mind recognizes undeniable conceptual connections once it starts using language, any language, in any society. Example: “All husbands are married men”; “A triangle has three sides” [triangle being a closed figure with three angles and all sides straight]; “the whole is greater than any of its parts, given there are more than one part.”

The list could be made almost endless.

Coupled with the grounds provided by sense-impressions this gives us shared grounds for validation of knowledge and criteria for its acceptability. Also makes it necessary to recognize the difference between beliefs and knowledge. Thus, these two facts together provide powerful grounds to resist the juggernaut of unbridled socio-political forces.

Therefore, the epistemology-annihilating interpretation of P is not tenable. However, some milder interpretations of it (IP1 to IP3) may be partially or entirely acceptable.

Pedagogical implications

This situation, that psychological constructivism of the milder variety is acceptable but epistemic is not, has some pedagogical implications.

1. Psychological constructivism is rationally tenable and pedagogically desirable, perhaps it is the most powerful pedagogy.
2. Epistemic radical social constructivism is not tenable and does no good to the endeavour of either knowledge construction or of education.
3. Children need to engage in their own knowledge construction, but they need guidance and even telling by knowledgeable adults. Intentional education without that is impossible.
4. All conceptualizations and beliefs are not equally good or worthwhile; thus children need to be brought to epistemically sound conceptualizations and beliefs. Their own construction of knowledge actually may be wrong, and often is.
5. The only tools to resist inherent injustice in socio-political dominance can be found in epistemology and ethics, and presumes an epistemology that is not based on arbitrary power. Thus inculcating the habit of demanding grounds for acceptance and working out the criteria for acceptance has to be a necessary part of pedagogy, if education has anything to do with social justice, equality, and democracy.

NCF 2005 often seems to go beyond acceptable limits of constructivist pedagogy in classroom teaching. But when one looks at the overall understanding it expresses, it accepts the need for objective criteria for knowledge. The section on knowledge and understanding in the chapter on pedagogy and epistemological criteria included in sections on subject teaching like science, mathematics and social sciences guard against radical constructivism of individual variety as well as the social variety.

One strongly arguable interpretation of constructivism in NCF 2005 could be ‘a position taken to argue against the rigid and stifling pedagogy used in our schools’. Therefore, it is not so much a document to jump wholeheartedly on to the constructivist bandwagon, rather is a long argument to bring the child’s capabilities and learning process in the centre to help him/her grow into a self-confident learner who progresses towards acceptable human knowledge in an active and engaged manner.

1. This position is acceptable to many philosophers of education who are not constructivists. But their reasons are different. (Scheffler’s reasons)
2. Clarence Joldersma, “Ernst von Glasersfeld’s Radical Constructivism and Truth Discourse”, Educational Theory, vol. 6, No. 3 (2011): 275-293.
3. Dhankar R., “Curriculum framework in search of a coherentepistemology: A case study of Indian National CurriculumFrameworks”, Presented in PESGB Conference, 2012, (p. 8)
4. RF Dearden, Introduction to Philosophy of primary education, Routledge and Kegal Paul, London
5. Social constructivism is a theory of learning and meaning making that emphasises the critical importance of culture and the importance of the social context for cognitive development. Therefore, help from others who already have the theoretical concepts in question becomes available.